Vivian Stancil was 50 years old, blind, weighed more than 300 pounds, and was terrified of water when she decided she would try swimming lessons.
I was lucky. I grew up around water — lakes, rivers, streams and a large, spring-fed community pool. The summer I learned to swim I had just turned 7 years old. My dad (a former lifeguard) considered swimming an important life skill as well as a recreational activity. So important, in fact, he took two weeks vacation time from work to give me and my sister an intense course of daily swim instruction after he determined we had not learned enough taking beginner classes.
I did become a confident swimmer after dad’s training, later working as a life guard and swim instructor during summer breaks just as he had done and enjoying water skiing and scuba diving. Even tried windsurfing, but struggled with directional control, resulting in too many wild one-way rides. Boating was a favorite family pastime (also the family business), and some of my best childhood memories are summer vacations at the beach with family and friends.
But, more important than water sports and recreation, I learned from dad to love and respect the water. It wasn’t until leaving my water-centric childhood home that I began to understand not everyone has the same opportunity to learn to swim and so many people have absolutely no experience in or around water.
A 2014 Red Cross survey found that 54% American adults either can’t swim or don’t have basic swimming skills, and only 56% of those claiming to know how to swim can perform all five basic water safety/competency skills: 1) the ability to step or jump into the water over your head; 2) return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute; 3) turn around in a full circle and find an exit; 4) swim 25 yards to the exit; and 5) exit from the water without using a ladder.
The Red Cross survey also revealed that nearly half of Americans say they have had an experience in the water where they were afraid they might drown, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 10 people die every day in the US from unintentional drowning. Twenty percent (20%) of those deaths are children aged 14 or younger, making drowning the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for children and sixth for people of all ages.
There are similarly grim statistics reported throughout the world. In both Hong Kong and England (each surrounded by water) – one in five can’t swim. According to government statistics, approximately 60,000 people drown in China every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified Africa (a region where children are taught to avoid the water, not how to swim) as having the highest rate of drowning deaths in the world (8 drownings for every 100,000 people), and Lake Victoria is considered one of the most dangerous spots with an estimated 5,000 drownings each year.
FACE YOUR FEAR – CHANGE YOUR LIFE
For non-swimming adults, fear and access were the main barriers to learning to swim as a child. That fear then carries on through adulthood and develops more issues of embarrassment and disinterest, causing serious risk to personal safety and an inability to enjoy the water. But, these things can be conquered with some inspiration, determination and swim lessons from a certified instructor.
Why not now? It’s a great question, and Vivian Stancil reminds us all that it’s never too late to learn to swim or take on any challenge.
Recommended Reading → *Swimming Lessons: Life Lessons from the Pool, from Diving In to Treading Water” by Penelope Niven. [At age 44, Penelope needed a change, and decided to learn to swim.] *Zeester Media LLC may receive a small commission for a book purchase you make via this link. This in no way affects the price you pay for the purchase.
Find local Red Cross ‘Learn-to-Swim’ providers
Adult learn-to-swim instructors – US Masters Swimming search tool
Vivian Stancil Olympian Foundation – Drown-Proof/Swim Clinic (April 28, 2018, Riverside, California)
2014 Red Cross Water Safety Survey Results – study conducted using a representative sample of American adults
Learn to Swim England The Amateur Swimming Association found that 20% of men and 22% of women over the age of 14 in England can’t swim.
Why do so many Africans drown? by Julian Hattem (April 27, 2017) NPR Goats and Soda
8 Health Benefits of Swimming + 5 Tips to Help You Swim Better by Jesse Miller, Jen Reviews (July 9, 2017)
When Death Rocks Your World, Maybe You Jump Out of a Plane by Hanna Rosin, NPR Health (March 9, 2018) – A personal essay on facing “one single deep, visceral, nausea-inducing fear of heights” when her mother asked her to jump out of an airplane.
Synchronized swimming is like watching ballet in the water, but watch closely. You’ll discover it looks much easier than it is, and competition is fierce.
Feature photo is courtesy of Unsplash CC0